In response, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told senators she was "pretty comfortable" with the program's progress and said she didn't agree with elements of a critical oversight report.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) raised concerns Thursday about the Army's investment decisions when it comes to advanced battlefield night vision and augmented reality goggles programs designed to improve soldier's survivability.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 5, Shaheen said the Army's decision to forgo procurement funding in its 2023 budget request for enhanced night vision goggles and binoculars (ENVG-B) while putting it on its unfunded priorities list "not only harms our soldiers by limiting access to more advanced night vision systems, but also affects our nation's already limited night vision manufacturing industrial base."
Wormuth defended the move to nix ENVG-B's funding as the Army procured the amount of night vision goggles it believed would meet requirements.
"A lot of what we're trying to do with the resources that we have is balance between making sure that we continue to have resources to invest in the new modernization programs as well as continue to invest in some of the enduring systems that we have," Wormuth said.
"That is always a bit of a tightrope for us and those dials are ones that we may be able to adjust through things like items that are on the unfunded priorities list."
But Shaheen wasn't convinced, and cited a recent Defense Department inspector general report, warning of the Army's potential risk to waste $22 billion on its integrated visual augmentation system (IVAS)--a heads up display that integrates several warfighter functions such as communications and high-resolution night and thermal sensors–due to pitfalls in their development.
"Just last month, an audit by the DOD inspector general found that the Army is at risk of wasting up to $21.88 billion in taxpayer funds to build a system that soldiers may not want to use or use as intended," Shaheen said.
"And I understand the need to continue development and that the IVAS system is what appears to be the future. But I also understood that the [research, development, test, and evaluation] for that had not been adequately completed. And so we're investing in a system that we're not sure is going to work, and we're not sure we have enough of the old system or the current system to address the soldier's needs. So I'm really -- I'm not convinced on your argument."
Wormuth has defended the program in recent months, which has run into delays, and told senators Thursday that the inspector general report's finding that soldiers ultimately wouldn't find IVAS useful was "a bit of an over-characterization."
Additionally, the secretary stressed that she was "pretty comfortable" with the program, which is expected to go through a major operational test this summer, and that the Army "didn't fully agree" with the findings in watchdog reports.
"We have a major operational test with IVAS that's starting this month and that will continue through June, and we'll be looking carefully at those results to inform, ultimately, where we go with IVAS," Wormuth said.
"I feel pretty comfortable with where that program is. We've been working very closely with Microsoft, and I think that that program is on track and that we've actually gotten quite a bit of good feedback from soldiers as we've worked to develop IVAS."
The Army is planning to equip its first unit with IVAS prototypes later this year.
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